Fly On the Wall—Why Stress, Why Suffer?

Finding the Now in the Now

Why, as adults (or in our case adult students), do we at times find it difficult to focus on gleeful and joyous moments?  Why does doubt and anxiety creep into our being and how is that negativity exacerbated by our studies?  Distance education can inflate our stress to soul-gnawing proportions.  So, in true critical thinking fashion, we at AU are well-advised to consider our background anxiety because however we felt before we began our study journey our psychological challenges are apt to increase.

Life is a learning process and if we’re not having much fun along then the way then we have to question our methods.  We only have one life and we might as well find some joy along the way.  At the broadest level, we’d be fools to trundle through a life in harness only to arrive at the finish line wearing a doltish gaze that reads: “what happened?”  It’s up to us to enjoy the ride, and, despite the agony of deadlines and setbacks along the way, an intangible skill we acquire in distance schooling can be an ability to enjoy the finer moments of life.

Finding pleasure in as many inexplicably delicious eureka moments is part and parcel of living a good life.  Placed in the presence of each moment, inhabiting as it were an interstitial place between all the stuff going on, there’s potential for wonderful clarifications of meaning about ourselves and our lives.  Distance education shines light on these joyful momentary tidbits; the whole of our world becomes a classroom where we can share what we learn—given a compassionate audience.

Planning to Succeed and Enjoy!

The worlds we inhabit as time passes are ours alone while in common; the trick, surely, is to see our presence as immutably present in every moment we live.  Yet, our natural inclination to make plans for the future is why we’ve signed up for courses in the first place.  So, when we’re fearful of failure or procrastination, a plan is just the plan for any moment of dalliance.  A good study plan begins by writing or typing something, anything, down.  Make a plan to make a plan and the rest just might fall into place.

Failing the arousal of any creative gristle, map out what you’ve done or not done over the past week.  Recall the adage that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.  Put down a plan to make a plan.  The rest will follow.  Tomorrow will be today soon enough anyway so you might as well envision yourself excelling when you get there.

Civilized Open Schedules and Their Discontents

Just going with the flow isn’t only risky for us, it’s stressful too! Having a plan can be rewarding and relieving, because it’s easier to see that we’ve made time for our studies rather than constantly be fatigued by having to find the time for them.  University of Maryland sociologist, John P. Robinson, studied workplace anxiety and found that, “while we may constantly complain about our harried schedules, the real joy-killer seemed to be the absence of any schedule at all…Americans are surprisingly fretful when not absorbed by tasks, paid or otherwise.  And at the bottom of his rankings, registering an “unparalleled level of unhappiness,” were those whose plight may sound puzzling: people who, though they almost always felt underscheduled, also almost always felt rushed”.

Part and parcel with individualized study conducted at a distance is that, while the schedules are of our own making, they likewise are ours to ignore or break.  Omnipresent anxiety over imagined future failures, especially that ubiquitous looming course contract date, can best be mitigated by having a schedule that’s rigorous but forgiving, regimented but teeming with positive morale.  Making time our own means we name and contain it and put it in perspective, be that within daily scheduled slots or weekly hour target goals.  The worst plan, besides simply failing to plan, is to repeatedly tell oneself “I’ll see how I feel” when the time comes.  Because someday, as the band Creedence Clearwater Revival sang in classic fashion, never comes!

Seize Those Shards of Inspiration and Plan to Enable Them

To be fair, waiting for academic inspiration to strike may work for some students just fine, but I find that without expectations in a given day (usually set in motion in my mind the night before) my motivation will evaporate or drift away.  However, we’d be foolish not to pounce on opportunities for enlightenment; even if they throw our meticulous study plan off kilter.  Martin Heidegger suggested that each moment is more than a feeling or a piece for our contextual pastiche.  “Ordinary understanding certainly sees the moment within time as well, but only sees the moment of vision as an ordinary moment, and only sees the ordinary moment in its evanescent character as something which is present at hand only for a short time.” (Heidegger, 295).  Moments imply eternity when they transcend the passing nature of their context.

The ineffable nature of truly memorable moments lies in the windows onto the nature of our being that they provide.  After a clarifying moment that transcends our passing experience of time and space we quickly return to a mental place where all seems right with the world.  Yet, “this return to inauthenticity is an extinguishing of the moment of vision” (Heidegger, 295).  When things feel normal we’ve lost the magic.  In other words, it’s our everyday preconceptions and evaluations, such as the chores that take up our study time, that we sometimes allow to cloud our judgment about when is a good time to crack the textbooks.  Making time in a plan allows us to avoid the intangible stress of wondering when we’ll next feel motivation to further our education.

These precious and few shards that feel like they happen outside of time, these moments of clarity where time stands still—or even reverses—are of a different type than the rest of experience and reflection. Bearing the uniqueness of these experiences in mind, it remains only for us adult students to recapture the glow of youth such that we may simultaneously ward off worry over future deadlines and dispel the tension from our present tense.

Derrida, J.  (2016/1967).  Of Grammatology.  (Trans.  Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Introduction by Judith Butler).  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.
Heidegger, M.  (1995).  The Fundamental Concepts of Meaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude.  Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.